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Category: Orchestra Life

New Notes on the Autism Scale

0 Robert Levine

While the Fall 2015 issue of Symphony magazine (the publication of the League of American Orchestras) contained a range of interesting and positive articles, one particularly caught my interest. Titled “New Notes on the Autism Scale,” it was about concerts given for people on the autism spectrum by a number of American orchestras and the

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Chicago Symphony Violinist Overcomes Vision Problem

0 Ann Drinan

I saw an article on a colleague’s Facebook page last night and had to share it. A story in the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper of the University of Chicago, describes the long ordeal of violinist Alison Dalton, whose vision suddenly deteriorated while on tour with the CSO in Hong Kong. She was later described as having Bull’s Eye

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Have Bass, Will Travel. Nervously.

0 Steve Metcalf

Whatever airline horror story you have about lost or mishandled luggage, I’m pretty sure Robert Black can top it. Robert, as many of you around here know, is a brilliant, nationally recognized double bass player and teacher. He is perhaps best known for being a founding member of the avant-garde music ensemble, the Bang on a

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George Cleve

2 Robert Levine

Facebook brought me the news this morning that George Cleve died yesterday. I knew he’d had health issues for a long time, but this hit me like a brick anyway. I first worked for George in 1974 upon my return from studying at a rather strange school in Switzerland known as the Institute for Advanced

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Here Comes Fall! A Week in the Life of Two ROPA Orchestra Musicians

0 Ann Drinan

Polyphonic thought it would be interesting to take a look at the lives of “typical” members of regional orchestras, where the orchestra doesn’t pay a living wage. Obviously there is no such thing as a “typical” regional orchestra musician – we all do different things to make ends meet and earn enough to pay the

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HSO on the Radio!

0 Ann Drinan

Monday morning at 9 AM, three members of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra sat before microphones and tried to explain to their community why the HSO is in such trouble. I was one of those three. And none of us were truly able to explain why we are where we are. The radio program was courtesy of

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Andris Nelsons in the News

0 Ann Drinan

This past Sunday, the Boston Globe ran a front-page article about their new Music Director, Lativian conductor Andris Nelsons, whose contract has recently been extended through 2022. Globe critic Jeremy Eichler is obviously entranced by Nelsons’ body language; the online article includes a gallery of photographs of “Nelsons in Motion.” Watching him at an afternoon

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An Interview with Polyphonic’s New Editor-in-Chief, James Doser

1

This summer, Polyphonic.org welcomes a new Editor-in-Chief, James Doser. He takes over for Ramon Ricker, who led Polyphonic.org since its inception in 2006. Welcome, Jim! Polyphonic: Jim – one thing that readers will find really interesting is that you actually studied with Ray Ricker, which means you are both saxophonists and that you know the

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The HSO: The Conversation Continues

0 Steve Metcalf

In a previous post (“Saving the Hartford Symphony,” July 9), I offered a few observations about the situation at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Briefly, the situation is that the management, which is now essentially the Bushnell under an agreement struck 16 months ago, is proposing significant reductions in the number of services offered to many

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Baltimore’s Adult Camp

0 Ann Drinan

NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon had an interesting piece this past weekend about the Baltimore Symphony’s Academy Week, which was held June 21 to 27th. Amateur musicians spend a week rehearsing with BSO players, and attending sectionals and private lessons. The week culminates in a public performance of the participants and BSO musicians

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Saving the Hartford Symphony

0 Steve Metcalf

As you may have noticed, tensions between the management and the musicians of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra have been heating up as the two sides try to agree on a new contract. Management, which basically now means the Bushnell [Center for the Performing Arts] under an administrative arrangement put in place a little more than

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Optimism in Omaha

0 Stephen Danyew

An article came out a couple of weeks ago on Omaha.com with some positive news from the Omaha Symphony.  Attendance during the Symphony’s 2014-15 season was record setting, and even subscription packages to multiple concerts are on the rise. Pretty exciting.  Of course, the question is why. Why are more people coming to the symphony

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Encouraging News from the Cincinnati Symphony

0 Stephen Danyew

While there is plenty of negative press about the struggle of orchestras in the 21st century, here is a New York Times article about recent successes at the Cincinnati Symphony that is quite encouraging.

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Flying with Instruments: A New Era?

0 Ann Drinan

Congress passed a law three years ago to address the problems musicians have encountered flying with their instruments, but the regulations, which will cause the airlines to implement the law, were only published in January, 2015.  And then the airlines had 60 days to get things in order to implement the new regulations. Thanks to the efforts

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James Stewart on the Metropolitan Opera Negotiations

0 Ann Drinan

James Stewart, author of Den of Thieves and many other prize-winning investigative works, has turned his talent to exploring the recent contract negotiations at the Metropolitan Opera. In the March 25, 2019 issue of the New Yorker magazine, Stewart presents an amazingly detailed analysis of these negotiations and what led up to them. As one

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Conductor Alan Gilbert’s Thoughts on the Future of Orchestras

0 Stephen Danyew

The Guardian recently published an edited version of NY Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert’s 2015 Royal Philharmonic Society Lecture.  In the lecture, Gilbert describes his view of where we are today - how orchestras are doing some serious soul-searching to discover what role they will play in their communities going forward.  Orchestras are trying all

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On The Future of America’s Orchestras

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As I write this introduction to my Editor’s Choice for this month, at top of mind for me is the former Director of the Eastman School of Music, Robert Freeman. In 1972 he was named director of Eastman, a position he held for 24 years. He returned to Eastman this week to be formally honored

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Politics and Music, as Considered by Alex Ross

0 Ann Drinan

Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, always has interesting things to say about classical music. In a recent essay written for Symphony magazine, Mr. Ross writes about the role of politics in classical music by posing the question: Do musicians and composers have an obligation to speak out on political matters? He

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What Should We Wear Onstage?

0 Ann Drinan

As it most likely true in all orchestras, mine has a decided rift amongst the women members in terms of what is appropriate to wear at a Masterworks concert. Being of a certain age, I always wear a floor-length skirt and a fancy top, usually velvet. It irks me to see 20-something women dressed as

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An Interview with Elaine Douvas, Principal Oboist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

0 Ann Drinan

Last May, as the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musicians were facing a difficult negotiation, Local 802 published a lovely and insightful interview with Elaine Douvas in Allegro, their monthly newspaper. Bob Pawlo, Local 802 recording rep, asked her many questions that delved into the complex life of a principal player in perhaps the world’s most demanding

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Senza Sordino Editor Richard Levine: An Editor’s Parting Thoughts

0 Robert Levine

Richard Levine has the distinction (along with the late Henry Shaw) of being the longest-serving editor of Senza Sordino in ICSOM’s history. His thoughts on departing from the post were contained in a long article in the August 2014 edition of the newsletter. Richard has been a friend for a long time, so I will

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On playing pieces for the last time

0 Robert Levine

One of the oddities of an orchestral career is the lack of control that we have over what we play. A consequencesof that odd fact is that, towards the end of a career, it’s possible to state with some certainty that one will have played a work for the last time. I’ve been musing on

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League Offers Free Conference Registration to Musicians from League Member Orchestras

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The League of American Orchestras recently opened registration for their 2015 Conference to be held May 27-29, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  They are offering free conference registrations to “musicians from League member orchestras only - cannot have any administrative or conducting responsibilities at your orchestra.” View the full conference schedule here.

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Los Angeles Philharmonic’s National Take a Stand Festival

0 Ann Drinan

On Thursday, January 8, 2019, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced the creation of the National Take a Stand Festival, an initiative to create a unified national platform for El Sistema-inspired programs throughout the US. The initiative will bring world-renowned conductors, guest artists and teachers to students in El Sistema programs around the country. The National

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Some more words on sub pay and Minnesota

0 Robert Levine

The folks at soundnotion.tv hosted a discussion with Drew McManus and myself on the subject of substitute pay and how it was handled in last year’s Minnesota Orchestra settlement. The discussion was moderated (very well, I thought) by David MacDonald and Sam Merciers. It can be watched on YouTube here. I felt the discussion covered

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Justice for extras - some practical considerations

2 Robert Levine

There was an unusual amount of feedback on my post last week about the pay disparity between full-time musicians and subs in Minnesota and how that might have come about. Some of the feedback confirmed my suspicions that the root of the problem was a “new model” mindset on the part of some board members.

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Future Symphony Institute: Launching a Think Tank for Classical Music

0 Andrew Balio

The Future Symphony Institute (FSI) began as an idea eleven years ago, born of my own protracted efforts to demonstrate what seemed to me some rather obvious opportunities for growing our audiences at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) at a time when we still had no red ink, were flying high with Yuri Temirkanov, and

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Orchestras on Tour

0 Ann Drinan

Polyphonic has published several “travelogues” by touring orchestra members. Two writers that are particularly eloquent are Charles Rex, violinist with the New York Philharmonic, and Yvonne Caruthers, recently-retired ‘cellist with the National Symphony. Charles wrote about the NY Philharmonic’s tours to Vietnam and North Korea. While he was in North Korea in 2007, he sent

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More on Dallas

0 Robert Levine

One of the things that mystified me about the Dallas situation was the involvement of the NLRB; generally disputes between the union and management over contract administration are handled through the grievance arbitration process. Not this one, apparently: The union intervened after a January incident in which DSO management suspended without pay an associate principal

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Baumol’s Cost Disease Is Killing Me!

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My Editor’s Choice post this time around is a blog/article that was just published a few days ago. It centers around Baumol’s curse. If you aren’t familiar with that term you will be after you read this article by Duncan Webb. And if you’re really into it you can find it discussed in eight different

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How to do hearing protection right

0 Robert Levine

There’s always talk about hearing protection, but I’ve heard of remarkably little action by orchestras on the subject. So this came as welcome news:  A program to protect Queensland Symphony Orchestra players in Australia from hearing loss is producing encouraging results, according to a new study. Sophisticated analyses of sound dynamics in concert halls led

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Friends come and go…

0 Robert Levine

Many years ago I had a colleague who used to say “friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.” It stuck with me, that saying. On the way home from a dinner party at this colleague’s house, my wife Emily remarked “did you notice how often he said ‘they used to be friends of ours’?” I’ve

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Someone else discovers gender discrimination in orchestras

0 Robert Levine

Long-time readers of this blog might remember an article I wrote in 2009 on the subject of discrimination in orchestras. I thought at the time that my survey of the rosters of ICSCOM orchestras demonstrated a marked differential between the number of men and women, especially in principal positions. Someone else has done much the

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Is tenure good for musicians?

0 Robert Levine

An interest in the law inclines me to surf amongst the legal waves on the Internet, leading to the occasional odd discovery relevant to my day job. This post from the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money caught my eye: Recently Kyle Graham, a professor on the tenure track at Santa Clara Law School, announced on

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Armistice Day

0 Robert Levine

Yesterday was Veterans Day in the United States. But, in Great Britain, Canada, most of the Commonwealth countries, and several European nations, it’s known by an older name - Armistice Day. And originally it commemorated the end of World War I at 11:00 AM on November 11, 2019. Veterans Day is taken seriously in the

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Looking for Perfection in an Imperfect Process

1 Kayleigh Miller

We recognize that the use of beta-blockers by musicians is a serious and controversial topic.  Nonetheless, we feel it is better to discuss it than to pretend that it doesn’t exist.  We neither condone or condemn the use of beta-blockers, but wish to have an objective discussion about its use.  Feel free to join the

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Technology and the Orchestra

0 Ann Drinan

Symphony magazine featured an interesting article about how digital technologies are impacting orchestras. Written by Andy Doe, a media and technology consultant who writes about music at his blog, properdiscord.com, “The Digital Orchestra” takes us from 1994, when the New Zealand Symphony’s principal bassist Dale Gold put up a simple website, to our world of ever-increasing mobile

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It’s A Pitch

0 Michael Drapkin

This post first appeared in Symposium, the journal of the College Music Society.  It is reprinted here with permission. I’ve had two careers in my lifetime: as a symphony orchestra clarinetist and as a technology executive. One of the advantages these dual careers have given me has been the ability to apply my business experiences

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Be An Entrepreneur! Get Outside Your Comfort Zone!

1

How many times have we musicians heard those phrases? Do they mean that we should try to be like Janice Martin, the violinist who plays while hanging upside down?  My most recent experience is not quite that dramatic….. “What time is the lunch break?”  I asked the stage manager, knowing that he was the one

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A Disgusting New Low

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This post originally appeared on the blog Mask of the Flower Prince.  It is reprinted here with permission. You know, over the course of the Minnesota Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera labor disputes, I’ve seen a lot of ugly things. Managements in both the disputes resorted to hard-ball tactics and inflammatory rhetoric as part of a

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Symphonie Addictique?

0 Robert Levine

Normal Lebrecht recently linked to an article about a British documentary on addiction amongst orchestral musicians: Addiction is blighting the lives of many classical musicians as they grapple with performance anxiety and antisocial hours, a cellist has said. Rachael Lander features in a Channel 4 documentary that brings together classical musicians whose careers have been

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Experimenting with the Concert Experience: How Orchestras Are Being Creative

0 Ann Drinan

The spring issue of Symphony magazine explores how orchestras are varying what they present to concert-goers. Messing with the Model by Senior Editor Chester Lane explores new ideas from several orchestras across the country. I was somewhat surprised and quite pleased to see my own Hartford Symphony Orchestra prominently displayed in this article! The Chicago

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Donald Rosenberg’s Take on “Spring for Music”

0 Ann Drinan

In the spring issue of Symphony magazine, Don Rosenberg, former music critic of the The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the newly-appointed editor of The Magazine of Early Music America wrote a very interesting overview of the “Spring for Music” (S4M) Festival, that presented its final week of concerts this past May at Carnegie Hall, contrasting

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Well-Traveled Baggage: A Seasoned Violinist Gets Sentimental about his BSO Experience

0 Gerald Elias

I don’t generally get maudlin over luggage. But after the final bows of Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Asia tour in May, I locked my wardrobe trunk and gave it an affectionate pat. This tour may well have been the brass-clad behemoth’s swansong. Built like fortresses, BSO’s 25 trunks could last forever. Lined up backstage like dominoes,

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Newsflash: conductor doesn’t like unions

4 Robert Levine

In this week’s edition of The New Yorker (paywalled, unfortunately) is a fascinating piece by Alex Ross on Iván Fischer, the Hungarian conductor and founder of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. While the piece focuses largely on his unhappiness with the current rightward lurch of Hungarian politics, Ross also reports on Fischer’s views on the orchestra

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How To Find a Balance

0 Ann Drinan

Back when he was Principal Flute of the Utah Symphony and President of AFM Local 104, Erich Graf wrote a fascinating and heart-felt article about how he learned to be both an excellent symphonic musician and an effective union leader. He talks about his own journey to self-discovery, begun by writing a Conscientious Objector letter, the

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Detroit Symphony Flash Mob at IKEA in Canton, Michigan

0 Ann Drinan

Rachel Martin of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday ” did an interesting piece about the Detroit Symphony’s comeback after the work stoppage. She talks about the beautiful acoustics at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, and questions what happens when you take the symphony out of that perfect acoustic and put them in — well — an IKEA warehouse!

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What the Great Strad Robbery means for the future

1 Robert Levine

Most readers of this blog have already heard of the events of last Monday here in Milwaukee. If you haven’t, the New York Times has a good summary: It should have been one of those nights musicians live for. Frank Almond, the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for nearly two decades, had just closed

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More Getty Grants

0 Ann Drinan

The latest awards from the Ann & Gordon Getty Education and Community Investment Grants, administered by the League of American Orchestras, were recently announced. The grants range from $10,oo0 to $30,000 for community-based grants in the 2013-14 season, awarded to 23 orchestras. To see the League’s press release, click here. 65% of the grants were

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Leadership, solitude and musicians

0 Robert Levine

I’ve been trying to figure out if this article, written as a speech to West Point cadets by William Deresiewicz, a noted American writer and former academic, might have some insights for us. This is a very long quote from the article: What can solitude have to do with leadership? Solitude means being alone, and

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Something you should read

0 Robert Levine

Once a year or so I read something online that stops me in my tracks; not because it tells me something I didn’t know (which happens every 2 minutes or so), but because it forces me to think uncomfortable thoughts. This year’s winner was a post by Emily Hogstad, who has consistently provided, on her

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Charleston decertifies

1 Robert Levine

I was reminded yesterday of a classic newspaper headline that combined obviousness with a complete lack of useful information: Something went wrong in jet crash, experts say Something similarly went wrong in the Charleston Symphony, according to Norman Lebrecht: In an unusual move that may prove a sign of the times, players in the Charleston

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Telling It Like It Is - An interview with Julie Landsman

0 Ann Drinan

Julie Landsman, French hornist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 25 years until her retirement in 2010, is the subject of a wonderful interview in Allegro, the  magazine of AFM local 802.  She explains how she developed her career plan: My first horn teacher was Mr. Howard Howard – yes that is his actual name!

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Explorations of Teamwork: The Lahti Symphony Orchestra

0

My Editor’s Choice for this time around is a look-back to a 2002 article in Harmony by Tina Ward and Robert Wagner.  In it they write about their experiences with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. It’s an inspiring story about a small town orchestra in Finland that, at that time, was making big waves in its

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A Very Touching Moment

0 Robert Levine

Norman Lebrecht posted about an incident between the concertmaster of the Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra and Daniel Barenboim during the recently concluded performance of Wagner’s Ring Cyle at this year’s Proms. It had a happy ending, though -  Barenboim addressed the audience after the final performance, thanking them, the orchestra, and the chorus, and ending by

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Annual Return to Boston Symphony Violin Section

0 Gerald Elias

Well, Cecily and I have begun our annual cross-country pilgrimage from Salt Lake City to Tanglewood.  This year, though, we’ve taken an unlikely circuitous route, stopping first in Portland and Seattle to visit our kids.  As we’re so far north already we’ve decided to make our trek through Canada, stopping at a Canadian Rockies hot

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League Conference: A Conversation with Peter Pastreich

0 Ann Drinan

The final musician session was a conversation with Peter Pastreich, a well-respected manager in the orchestra world, having served as Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony for 21 years. Prior to that he served as Executive Director at the Saint Louis Symphony, the Kansas City Philharmonic and the Nashville Symphony. More recently he came

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No Time At All

0 Peter Sachon

Just like Rip Van Winkle, American orchestras have been asleep for twenty years. Season after season of the same repertoire, played again and again for generations until the idea of an orchestra participating in modern musical life seems outrageous. Last week, the League of American Orchestras focused their annual conference around the idea of “Imagining Orchestras in

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ICSOM: The First Fifty Years

0 Stephen Danyew

ICSOM (the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents over 4,000 musicians from 51 major symphony orchestras throughout the United States) recently released a documentary titled “ICSOM: The First Fifty Years.” Filmed during the 50th anniversary conference in Chicago, the 38-minute film contains numerous interviews on the founding of ICSOM, telling the fascinating

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Working Together: Orchestra Musicians, Boards and Management

3 Bill Cahn

The Wall Street Journal for Friday, June 7, 2019 carries an article in the “D” Section, “After Orchestras Strike: A Tale of Two Cities” by Terry Teachout. The article compares the ways in which two orchestras - The Minnesota Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony - are dealing with their financial problems.   In Minnesota there is

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Labor of Love: A Primer in Symphony Orchestra Musician/Management Relations

0 Gerald Elias

You might think musicians would be at the top of a symphony orchestra’s food chain. So did I. When I joined the Boston Symphony violin section in 1975 at the tender age of 22, fresh out of college, bursting with enthusiasm, I was under the naïve misconception that the management of the orchestra worked for

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Some Good Orchestra News (for a change)

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It’s common for the general public, and even musicians to dwell on the negatives when speaking about the current state of orchestra affairs. Of course it’s not all gloom and doom. Here’s a positive. Pittsburgh Symphony settles contract with musicians a year early By Sally Kalson and Andrew Druckenbrod / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette At a time when major

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Another take on job satisfaction

0 Robert Levine

The question of job satisfaction in our field has long been an interest of mine, both for obvious personal reasons and because the sources of much dissatisfaction lie in an area of research - stress - I heard lots about over family dinners. So I  found this article in yesterday’s New York Times to be

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Symphony Magazine, Spring 2013 Issue

0 Ann Drinan

The spring issue of Symphony magazine is now available online. As usual, the magazine contains a variety of interesting articles. Chester Lane, Senior Editor at Symphony magazine, presents a fascinating article about the health and wellness programs springing up in orchestras. Many of these programs have been funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation

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Sir Colin Davis Remembered

0 Gerald Elias

Due to the tumult of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the world all but overlooked the passing of Sir Colin Davis, one of the great conductors of the 20thcentury, who died at age 85 one day before that terrible event took place.  To list his resumé as the music director and guest conductor of

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Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Musical DNA

0 Gerald Elias

Roland Tapley, Alfred Krips, Harry Dickson, George Zazofsky, Clarence Knudsen, Laszlo Nagy, Eugene Lehner, George Humphrey, Misha Nieland, Henry Portnoi, John Barwicki, James Pappoutsakis, Pasquale Cardillo, Bernard Zighera, Charlie Smith.  What do these 15 men have in common?  They were all musicians in the Boston Symphony who, with some 80 of their colleagues, performed the

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Protect Your Hearing

0 Ann Drinan

Mary Plaine, Principal Librarian with the Baltimore Symphony, recently posted a New York Times article  by Jane Brody on Orchestra-L, ICSOM’s list-serve, about what causes hearing lost. (Thank you, Mary!) The article cites a new book by Katherine Bouton, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You.” According

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Getting to Know Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin

0 Ann Drinan

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the new Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra who lives in Montreal, has been garnering lots of positive press, especially after his triumphant debut with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall on October 23 performing Verdi’s Requiem. He held the silence at the conclusion of the work for many, many seconds – so many that

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In memoriam 2012

0 Robert Levine

The more-or-less annual tribute from Polyphonic.org to our colleagues who left us in 2012 is finally online; my apologies to those who were waiting for it and no doubt lost patience many weeks ago. I knew a distressing number of those on this list. Some I knew just in passing (Mark Flint, Geoffrey Fushi, Bob

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